Hannah-Rose Murray
Submitted Entry for 2016 Competition

This project will create an original and exciting window into Victorian society by analyzing the African American presence in Britain and how their performances and lectures reached nearly every corner of the country. I have searched through the online British Library Newspaper Database to collect as much data as possible referring to formerly enslaved African American Frederick Douglass’ lectures in Britain, and for the first time, I have collated this information to provide a systematic and detailed analysis of his experiences. I have created a map showing some of Douglass’ lectures (below with the red pins) and a second map lists lectures given by other black abolitionists (below with multi-coloured pins). This is displayed on my website, www.frederickdouglassinbritain.com


Black Abolitionist Map 2.png

Searching the online newspaper database can only provide partial information, and there are thousands of lectures just waiting to be uncovered, and then plotted onto a map. But how can we achieve this? I want to build on the previous competition winner, who focused on finding Chartist meetings, and develop a process that searches for the individual rather than a record of the lecture in question. This will allow us to analyse the impact of black abolitionists on British society, and how far they travelled to lecture against American slavery.

Mapping their movements has never been done before, and we can use this visual representation to gather an estimate of how many lectures they gave, and most importantly, their hidden voices. We can explore their performances through their own words and how they interacted with British audiences to win support for abolition, and combat the deeply entrenched racism of the period.

URL: www.frederickdouglassinbritain.com

Assessment criteria
The research question you are trying to answer
How can historians and researchers use the digital newspaper database to provide a more comprehensive search for an individual? How can we take into account errors in spelling, and widen the search even further? How can we uncover hidden black voices in the archive?

Last year’s winner had an excellent project on Chartism, and after speaking with the Labs team, we discussed how a code was developed to find thousands more Chartist meetings in the newspapers that would never have been found manually. I want to build on this and use the Labs team’s experience from last year to find individuals. Searching the newspaper collection online is imperfect and incomplete, and with the Labs team’s support, I want to create a code that searches through these newspapers to find individuals more easily. Is there a way, for example, to input the various names used to describe an individual (Douglass, Douglas, American slave, coloured man, American negro) to widen the search area further? This would allow myself and other researchers to analyse and collate the number of lectures and performances given, but this would also catch anything outside a traditional meeting format.

Please explain the ways your idea will showcase British Library digital collections
I have collated thousands of articles from the 1830s to the 1900s, collecting all the information I can find in relation to the journeys and speeches of Frederick Douglass and other black abolitionists in Britain. The British Library Flickr page will be essential to source images, drawings, maps and photographs to contextualise data. I have already found maps of local cities, which I could use as a navigational point to illustrate what London would have looked like to Douglass or another black abolitionists who came to Britain a decade later. With a Masters in Public History, I also have a deep interest in public engagement and would use this project as a springboard to create numerous public activities to showcase the Library’s digitised collections, for example Black History Month in October. I'm also serving as a historical consultant to the new BBC series on Black Britons, which is due to air in the autumn (the date, if all goes well, the project should be finished). This would generate a lot of traffic to the site and to the British Library resources in general.

Please detail the approach(es) / method(s) you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods involved
Firstly, I will examine my own archive of newspaper articles (collected from the online databases) to search for common headings for abolitionist meetings. Sometimes this referred to ‘antislavery meeting’ or the individual in question.

Secondly, I want to restructure the current interface I am already working with: I want to create a user-friendly and interactive digital resource that exploits visual, audio and textual material to breathe life into the experiences of black abolitionists in Britain. I will illustrate this particular story with images from the British Library’s Flickr page https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11245117313/ and the geo-referenced maps showcasing locations and perhaps Victorian railway routes.

Thirdly, I will work with the Labs team to create a code to search for an individual in the newspaper database, taking into account errors in spelling and various descriptions of them. Lastly, I will geo-locate the lectures and travels of these individuals, plot them onto a map and create a user-friendly interface for the public to use and enjoy.

Please provide evidence of how you / your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the British Library
For the last four years, I have collected thousands of newspaper articles from the online British Library Digital Newspaper Collection created a website to house this information, a project I began during my Masters in 2012. I am not well versed in HTML code and I am excited at the possibility of working with the Labs team to not only improve my technological skills, but also how a restructuring of my website will create a better platform for my work: the world of digital history is expanding, and I want to learn from and contribute to it.

Additionally, I will receive support from the University of Nottingham's Research Priority Area in Rights and Justice, for which I work as a postgraduate director and which is developing its own Digital Humanities Rights and Justice project. This includes a collaboration with the University's Information Services department and I have met several times with Mike Gardner (User Experience) to discuss my project, as well as my supervisor Professor Zoe Trodd (co-director of the research priority area), who has developed her own large-scale digital project about the antislavery usable past.

Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis
The technical process of this project is realistic and achievable, particularly because I already have thousands of transcribed newspapers from the British Library Newspaper Database and have a basic website that is in continual development with the University of Nottingham’s IT team. The main challenge for the Labs team and myself is to build on previous work to develop a code to unify the research.

First and foremost, this project is possible on a curatorial basis because I have spent years gathering the materials and have a clear plan for how to now curate it. This project is based on the digital collections of nineteenth century newspapers, and I will work with the curatorial team to access OCR texts, as well as images and maps from the BL’s Flickr page.

I will constantly engage in discussions with the Labs team about the legal requirements of the projects – the images and maps used are no longer in copyright, with attribution to the British Library. Furthermore, I have painstakingly transcribed thousands of newspaper articles already and will continue to do so if there are any problems. The project will not involve oral histories, removing any legal or ethical implications.

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your idea by working with the Labs team
You will be given the opportunity to work on your winning idea between May 26th - November 4th 2016.

June 2016
- Preliminary meetings with the Labs team to discuss my project, any legal challenges, how we will work together and how to solve some of the project’s main questions and challenges (this may and probably will change throughout the summer).

- Working with the Labs team to get a clearer understanding of HTML/XML code in relation to the Digital Newspaper Database.

- Build on the previous work completed by the Labs team to create a code to find individuals and through this, their meetings, and references to the black community in Britain.

- Create a system of tags to label the abolitionist meetings, or to refer to certain individuals (Frederick Douglass for example) and people they stayed with.

July 2016
- Work with the Labs team to design a code to text-mine abolitionist meetings from the British Library Digital Newspaper Collection.

- (Independently) research for suitable images and maps of local towns black abolitionists visited

- I will research, write and these design the different stories

August 2016

- Continued discussions and creation of a digital code and plot meetings.

- Working with the labs team to layer the nineteenth century maps over the top and over the next two months find the best way of achieving this on the interface.

- Working with the labs team to create a process to connect a particular abolitionist meeting to an individual, with images and audio.

- (Independently) research and write the stories I want to appear on the site (continued from last month)

September 2016
- (Independently) continue exploration of layering of the maps

- Working with the labs team to ensure the interface is visually exciting, informative, and user-friendly.

October 2016
- I will focus on recording audio clips of black abolitionist speeches. I have already approached the Leeds-based performer and local historian Joe Williams, who has performed as Frederick Douglass in numerous plays and heritage walks.

- Work with the Labs team to test the interface.